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Australia Day – What’s It All About?

Flags stuck on cars. Thongs, board shorts and Bonds tank tops in festive designs. Beer-swilling. Barbecues. Fireworks and days spent on the beach. These are the images of Australia – that is, these are the images of our country presented on our national day, Australia Day. Every year, we celebrate our national values of mateship, the willingness to give a fair go, and a larrikin, care-free attitude to life.

At least, that’s what you’re celebrating if you actually do bother to do so. Many people refuse to celebrate Australia Day. Some do so for political reasons (the question over whether we should celebrate the day when the British invaded Aboriginal lands). However, many simply do not understand the celebrations that occur on Australia Day. They feel disconnected with these images of all-Aussie BBQs, alcohol binges and flag-waving. Why is this?

I think it is partly an issue that we feminists can analyse. What exactly are we celebrating as Australian women on Australia Day? What in Australian culture serves us? I’d argue that there is very little that is celebrated on Australia Day that we can really share. The image of Australia that is shown on national days emphasises ‘mateship’. This word is often applied to the men of Gallipoli, as is ‘larrikin’, who fought and died in service to the nation. Women are not involved in this myth, except as nurses or wives. The word ‘mateship’ itself has no connection with women whatsoever. Women do not have ‘mateship’. We have ‘friendship’ or ‘relationships’. The terminology is important, considering its historical roots and its doubtlessly male meaning.

Nor do we have many historical events we can celebrate as a victory as Australian women, unlike men. We can most certainly count the feminist movement, but that is generally not done so, due to modern women’s disassociation to the word. The ‘achievements’ celebrated by Australia in national celebratory culture are all war-based. Women are reduced to caring roles in most of these narratives. Even the greatest tale of our nation’s women, the capture and internment of Australian nurses by the Japanese in World War II, is often forgotten in comparison with the Kokoda Track.

So, I ask a difficult question: What are we celebrating as Australian women? Is there anything we can genuinely recognise that is celebrated on Australia Day, Anzac Day and the other various national days as something we identify with? Do we all live by the ideals of mateship, the fair go and larrikinism? Or are Australian women – and men – defined by something more?

2 thoughts on “Australia Day – What’s It All About?

  1. Absolutely – and Ophelia, I am so happy you have posted something about Australia day! I have been sitting at home all day (lazy day) quite disassociated with the typical celebrations. So much so, that I even joined the “Not Being a Drunken, Racist Yobbo on Australia Day” group on facebook.

    I, as a woman, enjoy reminiscing about my childhood days in the summer with my family, and cooling down in front of the fan or outside in the breeze with a spray water bottle filled to the top. I enjoy the beautiful nature that Australia has to offer — gum trees and kookaburras. They make me very happy and this is what I appreciate during this day.

    However, I feel that is different to recognising what is special to women in general may have to celebrate in unison as being Australian women – a very good question. I guess it’s difficult to find these things in a country that doesn’t always practice what it preaches and in many ways, still has conservative core values that don’t necessarily value what a woman can contribute to a society… these barriers enhance struggles for women break through.

    Honestly, I’m not a fan of Australia Day. And with that, I will post a link to the lyrics to “Recoil” by Tzu, a band and song that really does tell it like it is…

  2. Actually, I’m quite a fan of the mateship ideal, and don’t think it just applies to blokes.

    Like Siobhan, I don’t usually engage in the typical celebrations, and one of the reasons for that is that I’m usually at my family’s rural property at that stage of the year, and work just goes on as normal, puntuated by meat pie or steak for dinner, and maybe lamingtons for smoko, if we remember to buy them.

    But one memorable Australia Day, I was at the coast on holiday with my friends from high school, and the best part of the day was getting to spend it with them, when we had all dispersed and didn’t all get to catch up often any more. We bought a cheap cricket set and headed to the beach really early for a round of beach cricket, and then went had a fancy cafe breakfast along the Esplanade, just enjoying the surroundings, and Australian music that was playing. It was a fantastic day, just relaxing with old friends and enjoying the beach and sunny weather. We didn’t participate in any of the alcohol fueled partying, just took things as they came and had a great time. I AM a fan of Australia Day, but celebrated on my terms.

    Plus, after spending a semester in America, I’m ready to appreciate all that Australia has to offer, as corny as it may sound, because for all its faults… it’s still a pretty great country to live in.

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